Materiality, Health Informatics and the Limits of Knowledge Production

  • Hamish Robertson
  • Nick Nicholas
  • Tuly Rosenfeld
  • Joanne F. Travaglia
Part of the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology book series (IFIPAICT, volume 446)


Contemporary societies increasingly rely on complex and sophisticated information systems for a wide variety of tasks and, ultimately, knowledge about the world in which we live. Those systems are central to the kinds of problems our systems and sub-systems face such as health and medical diagnosis, treatment and care. While health information systems represent a continuously expanding field of knowledge production, we suggest that they carry forward significant limitations, particularly in their claims to represent human beings as living creatures and in their capacity to critically reflect on the social, cultural and political origins of many forms of data ‘representation’. In this paper we take these ideas and explore them in relation to the way we see healthcare information systems currently functioning. We offer some examples from our own experience in healthcare settings to illustrate how unexamined ideas about individuals, groups and social categories of people continue to influence health information systems and practices as well as their resulting knowledge production. We suggest some ideas for better understanding how and why this still happens and look to a future where the reflexivity of healthcare administration, the healthcare professions and the information sciences might better engage with these issues. There is no denying the role of health informatics in contemporary healthcare systems but their capacity to represent people in those datascapes has a long way to go if the categories they use to describe and analyse human beings are to produce meaningful knowledge about the social world and not simply to replicate past ideologies of those same categories.


knowledge production health informatics critical analysis materiality 


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Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hamish Robertson
    • 1
  • Nick Nicholas
    • 2
  • Tuly Rosenfeld
    • 1
  • Joanne F. Travaglia
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of MedicineUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.The Demographer’s WorkshopSydneyAustralia

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